User experience design, or UX design to the ever-efficient tech industry, is a field on the rise. While those in the know have always appreciated the importance of a good user experience, the ubiquity of the internet has made the work of digital UXers far more visible, and recognition for their efforts far more forthcoming.
So should you, a capable and motivated tech professional, start a career in UX?
“To understand the future demand for UX we need to first look at the history of UX,” says Julian Munford, hipages’ Senior UX Designer. “The term UX was first coined in the 1990s, but the industry is much older.”
Having built a career in UX long before the term was commonly used, Munford is more qualified than most to speak about the perks and pitfalls of the profession. He cites the touch-tone keypad, an invention dating back to the 1950s, as an early example of beautiful UX design. Despite its age, the feedback this innovation offers its user has meant that it continues to be used in today’s latest and greatest smartphones.
“So we’ve established that UX is old, so what? Well, it demonstrates that the need for good design is universal and will never go away,” says Munford.
“The fundamental skills of empathising with an audience, understanding their needs, and designing a system that best works for them are timeless, and will always be in demand.”
In fact, they’re becoming more in demand than ever.
What’s the difference between a UI & UX designer?
Before we fall too far down the UX rabbit hole, let’s clear the often muddied waters that surround this profession. What is UX design? And how does it differ from its bedfellow, UI design?
Let’s begin with the acronyms, the most obvious difference between the professions. UX, as we’ve laid out above, stands for user experience. UI, on the other hand, stands for user interface. Both are crucial to the delivery of a good product. Both focus on the end user of that product. Both are grounded in design. But from these foundations, their paths diverge.
Put extremely simply, UX design is a human-first way of designing products. It’s the process of enhancing an end user’s satisfaction with a product by improving its usability, making it simple and ideally pleasurable to interact with. UX designers aim to create experiences that are straight forward, smooth, and allow a user to complete a desired task easily. Think making an online purchase or locating specific information within an app.
In contrast, UI design mainly focuses on the sensory experience of a user. The UI is the on-screen experience that enables a user to interact with a product, and UI designers must craft the visuals, sounds, reactions and interactions to make the experience as simple and pleasurable as possible. Think swiping through screens and tapping buttons.
UX can be thought of as a more analytical and technical field, while UI has more in common with graphic design.
The allure of digital design for UX
UX design can be applied to any product, as Munford’s touch-tone keypad example demonstrates. But it’s in the digital sphere that this profession is beginning to explode, and Munford feels there are more than a few perks that come with taking a digital UX design role over a non-digital one.
“Due to the ubiquity and invasive nature of tech, there is a huge range of opportunities for tech-minded professionals. For traditional UX designers, moving industries was hard, if not impossible. But the tech industry slices across lots of other industries. This freedom to move and variance in opportunities is quite alluring.
“Tech companies also tend to be newer and more progressive, with much more relaxed cultures and more autonomy, as opposed to older institutions like banks or corporations in traditional industries. Working for a tech company often comes with benefits packages like flexible working hours and the ability to work from home. They’re the archetypal modern workplace where you can make friends as well as colleagues.”
“Tech jobs also tend to pay more than the average job,” Munford adds. “Sometimes by some margin.”
How cyber and UX work together
An interesting development in digital UX design — and one that potential UX designers will likely find themselves working on — is the discipline’s relationship with the field of cybersecurity.
If you ask any user of tech products to describe cybersecurity tools, you’ll probably be bombarded with negative words like restrictive, disruptive andirritating. But cyber isn’t optional — with so much confidential data now accessible via the internet, individuals, organisations, and governments need to be utilising cyber tools more today than ever before.
So the challenge has been placed on the shoulders of UX designers — make the cybersecurity experience better. One employee choosing to sidestep a company’s cyber measures could result in a serious security breach, so UX designers must come up with a way to make cyber a hassle-free, unrestrictive and smooth experience.
We’re well past the days when better protection came at the expense of UX. The security/UX balance is a tricky one, but getting it right is perhaps the defining skill of today’s top tier UX designers.
How to kick-start a career in UX in Australia
So how does an Australian UX hopeful go about kicking off their UX career? Munford, a man who’s walked this maze himself, and guided many more professionals through, offers up some advice.
“User experience design, service design, product design, UI design; the digital design industry has many facets, so my first recommendation is do your research! Think of your perfect work day, write down the kinds of activities you’d like to do, then look at some job adverts and find some that match what you’re looking for.”
Once you’ve got a clear direction in which you’d like to head, Munford suggests that you analyse your skill set. “If you have relevant experience in a related role it may just be a case of learning the terms, going to networking events to make contacts and pick up on current themes, doing some case studies, learning the tools, and then completing some online training to get you into a junior position.”
But the more common avenue that budding UXers take, he says, is formal education — a point echoed by the UX professionals interviewed in The Martec’s recent article on leading women in UX design. “You can now do bachelor’s or master’s degrees in topics such as IT Usability, Digital Communications Design, Interaction Design and Digital Experience Design. Having a formal qualification will definitely help you stand out from the crowd and maybe let you jump straight into a mid-level role (depending on experience).”
Munford also sees value in internships, and says that with every organisation now needing some form of digital footprint, it’s never been simpler to gain experience in UX design. Volunteering your time to a charity in need is a great option.
“I’d recommend embracing being a junior. Push to try new things, try different projects, experiment with different flavours of design, and maybe get a role at an agency to work with lots of clients. The sheer vastness of the tech industry means that there are a lot of different types of roles and organisations out there, so again, do your research, then throw some spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.”
No matter which route you take, Munford stresses that creating a portfolio website is a must for budding UX professionals looking to land their first gig.
What’s the typical UX designer salary?
This all sounds swell, you might be thinking, but let’s cut to the chase. If I choose the UX life, what am I going to get paid?
As this Skillcrush article points out, there are many factors that affect a UX designer’s salary, including skills, experience, location and employer. Butcurrent data suggests Australian UX designers can expect the following average salaries:
Entry-level UX designer salary: $48,511
Mid-level UX designer salary: $68,476
Experienced UX designer salary: $102,917
These numbers vary across Australia, with the two most competitive markets — Sydney and Melbourne — generally offering slightly better pay:
Sydney entry-level: $50,440
Sydney mid-level: $66,622
Sydney experienced: $106,985
Melbourne entry-level: $40,314
Melbourne mid-level: $71,815
Melbourne experienced: $106,128
These salaries make UX design one of the highest paid professions in Australia. And with demand for professionals rising exponentially, these averages are expected to do the same. There’s never been a better time to be in the business of user experience, it seems.